Deferred Dreams in “A Raisin in the Sun”

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Allowing yourself to set goals, and dream down the paths of achieving those goals plays an important role in one’s life. No one dreams the same dreams. Each dream of each person makes that individuals life have a purpose, it makes them take that next step forward rather than those two steps back. Some dreams are achievable and some are not, but passion and hard word are essential to making them achievable. All dreams are very different, some may demand a long time, requiring full dedication and devotion, such as dreams of gaining freedom, economical status, dignity, and social acceptance.

In Lorraine Hansberry’s playwright, A Raisin in the Sun, she expresses throughout, the dreams of the Younger family and how these dreams were visible, but always out of reach, becoming dreams deferred. The Younger family represents all African American families, who after facing hard struggles and sacrifices over a long period of time, were able to achieve equal rights with those of the white society. They represent the families who questioned what a deferred dream was, but was able act upon without an answer. They saw their dreams, even through their struggles of economic and racial hardships, and strived to achieve it.

A Raisin in the Sun allows readers to understand the history of racial and economic discrimination and how it has had an effect on the people of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and how that discrimination affected the characters within the play. According to an article published by Urban Studies, which dives into the question of how exposure to poor neighborhoods changed America societally, states that “Living in a neighbourhood with a particular poverty rate is only a proxy for exposure to various physical and social risks or, conversely, to important resources”(Briggs & Keys, 430).

The Younger family’s actions are results from their environmental influences. In both neighborhoods, they were the predator of the discriminitorial pray. The article also mentioned that exposure to the environmental influences “varies according to life-stage, family management strategies to buffer risks and secure resources, and other factors” (Briggs & Keys, 430), and in the early stages of the exposure to the families individual dreams, ‘family management strategies to buffer risk’ was non existent. It was not until they realized the importance of family unity, and the family dream, that the Younger family instilled family managements, which allowed them to purchase the house in the white neighborhood.

The importance of the play is twofold. First, it is the first play by and African American women to be presented on Broadway, representing the power this community is has built; and secondly, it foreshadows many issues which the American society experienced during the time period. Two characters from the play, Walter and George, are continuously affected by the mainstream of society, while trying to portray something they so obviously are not. They continue to search for their hope and for their dreams, but keep going down dead end roads. As they continue to search, the result is the answer to their question, what happens to a deferred dream?

As a desperate student channels their flow of thoughts from their desperate mind, to their fingertips, into words and sentences of a poorly constructed paper, what the characters of the play are lacking in life inspire the dreams that cause their actions. In A Raisin in the Sun, the main characters strive to get a hold of their own dream, continuously affect their individual’s actions. Through the use of dialogue and certain symbols, Lorraine Hansberry is able to portray the importance of the family unity and how the focus on individual dreams will affect it. Through racial and economic oppression, the characters in A Raisin in the Sun put their individual dreams aside in order to pursue a collective dream, that they recognise is vital for their unity and survival as a family.

Characters in A Raisin in the Sun each have a dream that drive their action, create their happiness, and expose their livelihood on attaining. Lena Younger and Mamas dreams are different than the rest of the family, but they still have a narrow mindset. Throughout the late 1950s, racial discrimination was way to common. Neighborhoods were separated based on raced, and pubic areas were still labels with ‘Colored’ and ‘Whites’ signs. In the eyes of the Blacks and Whites change was not forscene in the future, society was scared to take the steps forward. A Raisin in the Sun tells a story of a black family, who struggles to gain acceptance in the middle class of Chicago. The family of five, all live in a tiny apartment that is located in the low economical classed area. Although their economic and racial background show very little hope in the achievement of goals, dreams of owning a business and having money to accomplish goals, are two significant parts played out throughout the play.

Each character has a dream, that is deferred at some point, allows the action of the play to move forward. Lena, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha Younger all lived under the same roof, but their dreams were all different. Mama has a dream of owning a home that has a yard with a garden. This dream is one that she has dreamt about for many years, and one that has been deferred for years. She moved into the apartment with sights on a her dream of owning her own home, but was never able to get it close enough to be in reach, until sadness occurs- losing her husband and not being accepted into the society of the neighborhood.

Time after time, Mama postpones her dream of owning a house and garden to perpetuate the dreams of her family members, tabling her own for the better of her family. Unlike his mother, Walter has a dream of owning a liquor store. Through what he sees while doing his job, Walter wants to own a liquor store, using the income to provide for his family. Even though this dream sounds selfless and ideal, the succession of this dream is unsure, it can either work in his favor, or not at all. He wants to be able to provide his family with what he never had. His individual dream has been deferred by his low economic background and his inability to withhold employment.

The dream is within his vision, just never close enough to grasp hold of. The next family members dream, Beneatha, was to obtain and education and become a doctor. She wants to do something for herself so she can eventually help others. Her dream, along with all other women of the time, is deferred because of the social norm surrounding women. They were viewed as the family caregiver, and housekeeper, rather than the breadwinner. She saw her dream as approachable and able to be accomplished, but because she was a women, many, Walter specifically, did not see it the same. She knew deep down what she wanted, at one point she sarcastically apologize to her brother, for having her own dreams. Beneatha says, “Well – I do – all right? – thank everybody! And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all”(A Raisin in the Sun, 1.1.123)!

Walter sees her dreams as unattainable, however, Beneatha is determined and stands up to Walter for her right to dream of becoming a doctor. She can see her dream, but society, and Walter, keeps pushing it away. Next, Ruth, Walters wife, simply just wanted to be wealthy and happy. The money will make her happy, but like Mama, having a family and having not just a house, but a home, will make her the most happiness. Due to her economic background and low social status, her dream was deferred. She did not come from money, did not marry into money, so her future did not forsee money.

Herself and Walter must live in the crowded apartment, with their son Travis, who must sleep on the sofa, all because of their lack of steady income. She continuously saw an outcome of other people’s dreams, saying to Mama “Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is – but he needs something – something I can’t give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena”(A Raisin in the Sun, 1.1.187), but not many people saw her dreams having a desired outcome. Ruth constantly feels the negative energy of her husband’s unhappiness, resulting from the failure of his own dream, and becomes scared of what may happen to their relationship if Walter is unable to attain his dream.Ruth, although, knew what she wanted her future to look like, and kept her visioned dream close, but just never close enough, becoming a dream deferred.

Although having an individual dream gives each person a purpose to life and allows them to take that next step forward rather than those two steps back, they also tend to separate people as individuals who are unable to become collective. Since each person has their own dream, some may have related dream but with different versions and views, they become a mold of a person who can not be reshaped. The Youngers struggle to attain their individual dreams throughout the play, and the failure to attain these dreams has a result on their happiness, and much of their depression.

The Younger family is alienated from the white middle class culture; however, they harbor their materialistic dreams as the rest of the American Society. By the end of the play, they learn that the dream of a house is the most important dream because it unities the family (Jose, 880). Each family member has their own dream and are molded into a lifestyle of only focusing on accomplishing their dreams, themselves. Through failure, unhappiness, and observation, they eventually break out of the mold, and learn that a collective family goal is more significant of their own because it united the family, and evidently, family is the driving force behind their individual dreams.

Besides family, the harsh discrimination that the family as a whole, as well as each member independently, is faced with empowers each of their goals, revolving to eventually empower their collective goal. Racial and economic discrimination is defined as the act of treating a person or group differently then another solely based on their racial or economic background. In the first neighborhood the Youngers lived in, consisting of a majority of African Americans, as well as their new neighborhood, consisting of a majority of white Americans, all handed the Youngers a piece of discrimination. Each of these pieces came together to make a whole, and all of that discrimination affected each family member and their dreams. Their dreams are what evolved their attitudes and drove their desire to wake up in the morning and continue out the day, so having their community shame them and make them feel unaccepted, made Walter, Beneatha, and Ruth all question if their dreams were worthy to be dreamt.

The American Dream, the ideal lifestyle every American strives to live during their lifetime. Walter made an effort in everything he did to live out the American Dream. He sees affluence around him, especially when working his job. He knows that if he wants to live the American dream, he needs to be financially stable. He constantly finds himself under pressure to follow the actions of how the white community lives their daily life, with hopes to be accepted in society while accepting the American Values. Because of his race and economical upbringing, his dream and morals are looked down upon by society and made to be unattainable, all because of his race.

An article titled “I Have a Dream—Racial Discrimination in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun” written by Hana’ Khalief Ghani, talks about how this play, A Raisin in the Sun, deals with the impact of racism on the life of the Younger family and how the family suffers from racial discrimination in the housing industry, living space, and employment. The article states that “Walter has been taught that he should want the world, but because he is black he has been denied the possibility of ever having it, and that only makes the pain of the desire that much more hurting”(Ghani, 612).

The play illustrates how difficult it is to succeed in society, while representing a minority race. As the family realizes the hardships they are facing, they eventually learn that maybe focusing on themselves and what they dream for, and focusing on what the family dream is, is what will keep the family together. Together, they want to move out of the apartment, and into their home, even though they will be the minority group of the neighborhood. Mr. Linder, a member of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, defers the family dream, as well. He offers the Youngers a deal to reconsider moving into his all white neighborhood.

Mr. Lindner himself is handing the Youngers a piece of that discrimination. He states in the play that, “people get along better, take more of a common interest in the life of the community, when they share a common background”(A Raisin in the Sun, 2.3.117). Mr. Lindner believes that the Youngers and the Lindners are dissimilar enough that they should not be neighbors. He is representing the rest of the neighborhood voices. They do not want a black family moving into their white neighborhood, but the Youngers have a dream, and they are trying their hardest not to let the oppression defer them from attaining it. It is the idea of owning a home rather than a house or apartment that is significant to them. The Hansberry family, who the Younger family represents based on their discriminatory experiences, knew deep down that they were determined to come out of the ghettos of America. They knew that the ghettos were killing their community and their dreams.

Over time, many researchers have found “that racially isolated ghettos with high poverty and high crime rates, as well as high rates of school failure and other signs of distress, have contributed to persistent poverty and racial inequality in a wide variety of outcomes”(Briggs & Keys, 430), and that is why the social inequality which the Younger’s encounter does not hinder Mama’s compassion. Mama wants the best for her family, and does what she can to avoid seeing her children’s dream become shriveled up like a raisin in the sun.

Racial discrimination is the main reason each of the characters dreams are deferred. It takes pain and suffering for them to realize that the money is not everything, but family is. The way Lorraine Hansberry dramatized the build up to the decision of letting their personal dreams go, and to allow them to dream as a family, shows that wealth is not always as desirable as it may look. Through the play and the characters actions, the audience is reminded of the sacrifices people make for their freedom. Each character is portrayed to be chasing the American dream, wanting a home and money, symbolizing he dream of freedom and the right to be respected as not only a citizen but as a human being.

The want for the American dream such a social norm, that the efforts of obtaining it are so naturalistic, but not everyone knows what the American Dream actually is. Lorraine Hansberry, through the play Raisin in the Sun, discusses the many parts of the American dream by looking closely at the dreams of one family and how those dreams changed over time. At times it is accepted to be selfish, but when being selfish tears your family apart, tabling your personal attributes and persevering a collective dream will allow for the better outcome.

In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry uses economical, social, and education historical context, and expresses the negative attributes of those through the emotions and actions of the characters. America has always been a land of racial diversity, and the role of black men and women in shaping and being shaped by the American experience has long been reflected in American literature(Jose, 876). The play is essentially about dreams, and how. the main characters struggle to deal with the oppressive circumstances that rule their lives. They let the society, filled with racial and economic discrimination, affect them in a negative way through deferring their dreams. The characters struggle with accepting their dreams being deferred because they did not forsee how, by tabling their own dreams, will better them in the future. The Youngers struggle to attain their individual dreams throughout the play, and the failure to attain these dreams has a result on their happiness, and much of their depression. By the end of the play, they learn that the dream of a house is the most important dream because it unities the family.

In conclusion, Lorraine Hansberry was able to portray an African family and their struggles in America. She was able to make the racism realistic, allowing for connection between the characters and audience. Through her works the audience is able to hear the voice of the struggling and oppressed African American people, during the 1950 and 1960s.Hansberry’s biographer Anne Cheney calls the play a “moving testament to the strength and endurance of the human spirit, . . . a quiet celebration of the black family, the importance of African roots, the equality of women, the vulnerability of marriage, the true value of money, the survival of the individual, and the nature of man’s dreams”(Thomas, 467). Lorraine broke free of the pressure for being a black writer, and wrote a groundbreaking play, reflecting her experiences through the characters. She allowed the character to break free of the pressure of being black and minority, and made a breakthrough of the social norm and fulfilling their long desired family dream.

The Youngers moved out of their apartment and into their home, fulfilling the families long desired dream. Although they are unsure what their future holds as a family, they know that it can only go up from here. Having an optimistic and determined mindset, the will strive to continue to live a better life, and break out of the minority group. They are growing from the oppression. They believe that they can succeed if they stick together as a family and resolve to defer their dreams no longer. Langston Hughes’ poem, ‘Harlem,’ illustrates what could happen if those dreams never came to fruition. Together, both Hansberry and Hughes show the effects on human beings when a long-awaited dream is prevented by economic and social hardships. What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore – And then run (Hughes,1)?


Cite this paper

Deferred Dreams in “A Raisin in the Sun”. (2021, Nov 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/deferred-dreams-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun/



How was Beneatha's dream deferred in A Raisin in the Sun?
Beneatha's dream was deferred when she found out that her father was going to use the insurance money to buy a house instead of sending her to medical school.
What were the dreams of the characters in raisin in the sun?
The dreams of the characters in raisin in the sun were to be able to move out of their small apartment and into a house with a backyard.
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